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Town writes off $129,689 in uncollectible fees


May 05, 2010
As a result of $207,977.97 in unpaid ambulance services to Gilford Fire Rescue, the town must write off $129,689.12 in bad debt.

At the April 21 meeting, the Board of Selectmen agreed to write off over nearly $130,000 in outstanding ambulance bill payments. Attempts to collect the money, including bills dating back to 2001, have been unsuccessful.

Both Fire Chief Jim Hayes and Financial Director Geoff Ruggles said they attempted to address these older, unpaid bills with prior selectmen, but no action was taken until now.

Ruggles said there is a three-year statute of limitations on collections of old debt, meaning that the town can no longer collect money from bills that are older than three years.

"In the state of New Hampshire, no legal recourse can be taken after three years," said Ruggles. "I don't know if we will be able to get anything from them."

After speaking with auditors, Ruggles said, Town Clerk/Tax Collector Denise Morrisette suggested that the bills deemed uncollectible by the state should be "written off in the books" and that the town should come up with a policy to deal with these particular mishaps in the future.

Gilford Fire Rescue provides Comstar, the ambulance service, with patient information. Three consecutive invoices to collect money are sent to the patients, and if funds are not received, the bills are handed over to the town's Finance Department. That department then transfers the list to a collection agency, which attempts to collect the money from the patients.

A number of the uncollected fees may be due to out of state patients or people who do not have insurance, said Ruggles, and the town must then decide what to do with these unpaid bills.

Hayes said a few other unfortunate instances might have occurred in the process, causing unpaid ambulance bills to add up over the years.

"One item we have had a problem with in the past is when the bill goes to the insurance company, who sends it to the patients, they may keep the money meaning the town never got paid," said Hayes. "Ambulance service is not free. You are billed for it. It's not built into the tax dollars."

Ruggles added that this issue was brought to the town's attention five years ago, yet the problem continued to grow when previous members of the board did not respond. He said there is still a possibility of receiving payments that are legally collectible, and that small claims court is another possible last resort.

Selectmen agreed that by omitting the uncollectible fees over the past few years by writing them off as bad debt, the town would then have a better idea on what numbers they are actually dealing with, and what to do about these numbers.

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